The passage of the Homestead Act during the Civil War provided unprecedented opportunity for land ownership and increased the prospects for social and political mobility for women and minorities. By granting 160 acres of free land to claimants, it allowed nearly any man or woman a chance to live the American dream.
Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, Nebraska, was created on March 19, 1936, to commemorate and interpret the impacts of the Homestead Act on the United States and the world. Historians have often declared the Homestead Act to be one of the nation’s most significant laws. This law declared that anyone who was a citizen, or intended to become one, could claim 160 acres (one-quarter square mile) of surveyed government land. Claimants had to build a home and live on the land for five years. During that five-year period, claimants were required to improve the land agriculturally. After five years, the government would transfer ownership of the land to the successful claimant.
This 211-acre monument commemorates the Homestead Act with displays examining the social, economic, and environmental impacts of this legislation. The park land encompasses 100 acres of restored tallgrass prairie and includes a T-shaped quarter section of tallgrass prairie, stream, and mixed hardwood forest that comprised the entire original claim of Daniel Freeman. On January 1, 1863, Freeman was one of the first homesteaders to file under the provisions of the Homestead Act of May 20, 1862. The primary monument structures include the Homestead Heritage Center, the Homestead Education Center, the Palmer-Epard Cabin, and the Freeman School, a one-room schoolhouse built in 1872 and located a quarter mile west of the Education Center.
Homestead National Monument of America is unique as the only location in the United States dedicated to the story of the Homestead Act in its broadest context. Through exhibits, films, educational programs, and special events, the staff educates the public about the importance of the Homestead Act to our nation’s history. The exhibits and events examine a variety of topics related to homesteading, including agriculture, industrialization, American Indians, immigration, introduction of plant species, and prairie ecology. The park maintains excellent relationships with other organizations and facilities dealing with specific aspects of homesteading history, such as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska State Historical Society.
The Friends of Homestead (a nonprofit organization) own and manage the 140-acre parcel directly to the south of the national monument. The Friends of Homestead’s stated goal is to donate the parcel to the National Park Service in the future. The national monument also has authority to create the Homestead Educational Parkway in the vicinity of the park, if Nebraska Highway 4 is rerouted.